One of the first things that comes to mind when thinking about my father was his voracious appetite for reading. And one of the earliest signs that something was going on with my father was that he no longer seemed interested in reading, which meant no longer interested in obtaining information, which meant no longer interested in learning. It wasn’t him of course but rather dementia. At the risk of being over the top imagine if Beethoven decided one day that music wasn’t doing it for him anymore. That’s what it was like for me when my father stopped reading. For most of my post high school life I always ran newspaper articles, magazine articles, books, chapter excerpts, etc. by my father for feedback- anything that I found fascinating, insightful or profound. It was wonderful. I stopped getting that feedback probably somewhere in 2011. In order to deal with this new reality that dementia created I tried seeing my father as omnipotent, literally all-knowing on every topic, therefore, there was no reason for him to ever want to read. Sounds completely silly, certainly didn’t always work but it lessened the blow by making it easier sitting with him in my parent’s guest bedroom/office surrounded by books all of which he had read, none of which he could tell me anything about. John Milton. . .James Joyce. . .Will Durant. . .David McCullough. . .Tom Clancy. . . it didn’t matter. But it wasn’t always this way.
My father’s major at the University of Notre Dame was Great Books. He literally majored in reading. All the classics of western civilization. I never substantiated his claim but he said only about a dozen students were in the program when he graduated in 1967. It was rigorous and like anything challenging had a way of weeding out those that truly did not want to learn for learning sake. He was the most well-read individual I had ever met, and that is no small feat. My entire life I have been surrounded by people that loved to read. My grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. It is interesting too, because I never once remember my parents forcing me to read or pushing books on me or any of my siblings for that matter. Instead, they took the modeling approach (the best approach I might add!). Reading was just present- like living in a library. My parents demonstrated reading all the time, whether it be sitting at the kitchen table between meals, on the back deck, in the TV room, my Mom in my parent’s bedroom. To this day my Mom reads at least two books a month. I would ask them about their books on occasion when younger, even more so when older in my teenage years but that was the extent of it.
Sundays were an especially big reading day for my father because Sundays meant The New York Times– all news fit to print, which of course included The Week in Review and The Book Review sections respectively- two sections my father never missed. The Week in Review was a culmination, analysis and commentary on all the week’s events. As my grandfather once said, “if you read only one thing all week make sure it is The Week in Review.” Sundays began with Church, followed by picking up The New York Times and then back home. In the summer my father could be found on our back deck after a breakfast that usually involved him cooking scrambled eggs and bacon for everyone.
What was interesting about his obsession with The New York Times was that my father was pretty conservative- indeed a registered Republican. The paper’s left leaning tendencies did not however keep my father from buying it each week. In fact I think that he often bought it just to get fired up. Regardless of his political leanings he implored the idea on his children that a truly educated person is one that is well-versed on a topic from all sides. To this day I cannot pick up The New York Times or even look at it for that matter without thinking of my father.
At his wake as family and friends entered, to the right of guest book was a table that was full of memorabilia representing my dad- a copy of The New York Times was of course front and center as it should be.